Military Review

The world's first experiment on trapping space debris with a net is being prepared.

The world's first experiment on trapping space debris with a net is being prepared.

Is space junk dangerous? How to start cleaning the orbits? What do you need to solve legal problems? What projects are offered? This correspondent "RG" talks with Vladimir Agapov - a senior fellow at the Institute of Applied Mathematics. Mv Keldysh, who is the head organization of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the problem of space debris.

So, the leading space powers from the words about the danger of pollution of outer space, finally decided to get down to business. The pioneers will be the Japanese, who in February will test the system of such purification. But is this true? After all, years go by, the danger of garbage is talked about a lot, but by and large no serious accidents have happened because of it. Maybe let it fly, and do not need to spend huge money?

Vladimir Agapov: Let’s see for a start what is actually being discussed. What is space junk? According to experts, more than 650 thousands of different objects with a size of more than one centimeter rotate around the Earth. Of these, only large, more than 10 centimeters, of which there are about 22 thousands, are currently being tracked. The remaining hundreds of thousands are incognito, "Mr. X." But there are even smaller, about a millimeter, their number is estimated at about a million 3,5 objects.

The most unpleasant thing is that this armada is constantly growing. Not only because more and more spacecraft are sent into space, which, in the end, also become rubbish. The trouble is that the “dirt” itself is not passive. After all, fragments flying at a tremendous speed collide with each other, collapse, generating hundreds and thousands of new objects for many years. It is not by chance that the removal of the ISS and other spacecraft from the course of a possible collision with space mud is increasingly reported.

But when they talk about collision avoidance, then we are talking only about fairly large fragments that are constantly monitored by special locators and telescopes. But much more in the orbit of a small placer, which no one can track, but which is also extremely dangerous. It is known that in the frontal windows of a number of spacecraft after landing they revealed microcracks of such critical dimensions that the apparatus was completely depressurized. Understanding all these problems, the space powers are now dramatically stepped up work to combat space debris. Here you can not miss the time, bring the situation to the brink, when the problem perezreet and it will be too late.

But the Japanese are already ready to be the first to start cleaning ...

Vladimir Agapov: This is not entirely true. It is only about testing one of the many options. No doubt, it is important, but rather, to attract attention to the problem. In fact, before seriously taking on specific projects, it is necessary to make an inventory of all space debris. Where and what flies, how dangerous are these objects. At the moment we have far from a complete picture. In low orbits, up to three thousand kilometers above the Earth's surface, approximately 80 percent of garbage dangles, at high, and above all geostationary, and this is about 36 thousand kilometers above the Earth, and intermediate elliptical orbits - the remaining 20 percent.

It would seem that an urgent need to take up the low orbits, where the lion's share of garbage has gathered. But on the other hand, the geostationary orbit is no less important for us - after all, around 430 devices are now working on it, each costing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Thanks to them, we have the Internet, satellite TV and a host of other amenities. And unlike low orbits, the geostationary is only one, and we cannot lose such a unique natural resource.

That is, before you take up the space mop, you need to decide on priorities?

Vladimir Agapov: Of course. And it is not necessary to start with coarse dirt. It may turn out that it flies where there are no operating vehicles. Such fragments in the near future is better not to touch, especially if they do not collide with each other. But it is not enough to single out the dangerous grouping, it is already necessary to understand in it what is most dangerous. That is, to build a tree of priorities. And only after that start spending money on cleaning the orbits. Otherwise, the effect of all this cleaning will be scanty.

Or maybe at the same time countries should come to an agreement in order not to litter at all? Stop pollution?

Vladimir Agapov: At the initiative of the UN, a number of such measures have been developed, agreed by various countries. There are some pretty obvious ideas here. For example, if a satellite or rocket stage has worked, then they must either be led away from a given orbit to a lower one, from where they will be lowered by braking and burned in the atmosphere. Or even drown in the ocean. This applies to large objects, but much more detail, which is separated when the devices are started up and during operation - all sorts of nuts, bolts, etc. The obvious solution: to create such structures so that nothing is separated.

But the main supplier of garbage is explosions in orbit. The reasons are very different. Most often the residual fuel explodes. The fact is that after the satellite is put into orbit, the components of the fuel remain in the rocket stage, including self-igniting. While the tanks are intact, nothing terrible happens, but if, say, the micrometeorite breaks through the wall, an explosion occurs, and the stage shatters into thousands of small pieces. Therefore, after the completion of the flight program, it is recommended to open special valves in order to drain the remaining fuel in the form of gases.

What projects are offered today to clean up the accumulated garbage? How effective is the method that the Japanese will experience?

Vladimir Agapov: The Japanese project assumes that a special satellite will put an electrodynamic trawl into orbit and deploy. It is a metal mesh with a length of 300 meters, a width of 30 centimeters, and the thickness of the filaments is about 1 millimeters. The trawl will move in orbit, generating a magnetic field and capturing some of the small debris. After a few months, the "net" with the catch under the influence of the magnetic field of the Earth will change the orbit and enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, where it will burn.

The project is pretty obvious, but the question is, will such trawl collect a lot of garbage? Indeed, in spacecraft there are not so many materials that are magnetized, mainly non-magnetic aluminum alloys, various dielectric films are used, and recently composite materials are used. Today, many other projects are being considered. For example, it is proposed to use lasers. But this option immediately raises a lot of questions. How to direct a beam at a small object that nobody sees? It is not clear. They say we will fight with the visible. For example, having directed a laser beam at it, we will push the object. But where? Who can predict where he will fly if he does not know the shape of the object, its mass, material? As a result of such an impact, the object may become even more dangerous, collide with some kind of working apparatus.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting ideas is the use of various braking systems. For example, after the end of the work period, the satellite throws out a “sail”, “parachute”, or simply a large balloon that is inflated with gas. As a result, the area of ​​the whole structure increases dramatically, which greatly inhibits it. The device will quickly reduce the flight altitude, enter the dense layers of the atmosphere and burn.

In science fiction films in orbits, various manipulators have long been operating that clean and install satellites and other equipment. Such projects are in the portfolio of scientists?

Vladimir Agapov: Of course. But they are technically probably the most difficult. After all, a large garbage object has a mass of up to several tons and rotates in a complex way, it is not manageable. It has great inertia. How to capture it and not destroy at the same time neither the manipulator nor the spacecraft itself, on which the manipulator is installed? Here it is necessary to solve complex technical problems.

3,5 million different space debris revolves around the earth

But in addition to purely scientific and technical, there are other problems. After all, this way you can remove not only debris, but also other spacecraft, even working. That is, in fact, these are dual use systems - civil and military. Therefore, there is an important legal aspect in the fight against space debris. On the one hand, space debris flies in orbit, but on the other, even "dead" objects that have worked their life belong to someone. And the attempt of one of the countries, even with the best of intentions to remove someone else's object, can lead to very serious conflicts. This means that such operations must be carried out in a coordinated manner with all participants so that additional risks do not arise. The world community is working on these issues today, because everyone understands: any sudden movement can lead to unpleasant consequences for everyone. By the way, even if we suddenly stop flying into space at all, the amount of garbage will still increase. Estimates show that only due to the mutual collisions of already flying fragments through 20-30 years, the increase in debris will exceed its loss as a result of natural deceleration processes in the upper atmosphere and de-orbit.


Today, the total mass of space debris in orbits is about 6700 tons. Its density at altitudes 800-1000 kilometers reached a critical level. Due to a collision with it, the probability of losing a spacecraft over the 10-15 period of years is already higher than the probability of losing the vehicle due to the failure of the onboard systems. The probability of a collision between two large objects in low orbits is estimated as one event in 15 years. Even 10 years ago, this figure is 4 times lower.

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  1. Volodya Sibiryak
    Volodya Sibiryak 3 February 2014 09: 15
    The old man went into outer space, threw a net ...
    1. unclevad
      unclevad 3 February 2014 13: 03
      Laughter is laughter, and for large debris (failed satellites), you can develop small lead-in modules that can capture, orient and push it at the right time into the dense layers of the atmosphere, and yourself - undock. A space-controlled robot-scavenger controlled from Earth or from a station. wink Anthropomorphic robotic manipulators began to do the same for the stations.
      1. Geisenberg
        Geisenberg 3 February 2014 17: 55
        Quote: unclevad
        Laughter - laughter, but for large garbage (broken satellites) you can

        You can, of course, only reluctance anyone. The Americans and the Chinese are so frankly sitting and waiting for someone to begin to clean the near space, and they will only give directions where the revenge is cleaner. Here this trawl flies and see how much he will spend and whether he will accidentally spend too much.
    2. AVV
      AVV 3 February 2014 13: 37
      Quote: Volodya Sibiryak
      The old man went into outer space, threw a net ...

      It's time to open space receivers of non-ferrous metal !!! For hundreds of millions of bucks, the meta color spins just like that, idle! Collect and sell !!! Only how to make the project profitable is what designers should work on !!!
  2. And Us Rat
    And Us Rat 3 February 2014 10: 26
    Yes, it's time to do the cleaning what
  3. Tektor
    Tektor 3 February 2014 11: 30
    . The most effective way to destroy garbage is to reduce it from orbit under the influence of reactive draft from fumes when irradiated with a laser beam. Need a laser module up to 100 kW in orbit up to 1000 km.
    1. terrible
      terrible 3 February 2014 18: 04
      ) 2nd purpose cleaner
  4. Admiral 013
    Admiral 013 3 February 2014 11: 37
    Sooner or later, this problem will become quite serious or even dangerous for the ISS crew. So try, check and choose the best and less expensive way.
  5. Sashkessss
    Sashkessss 3 February 2014 14: 54
    Japanese? Cleaning? Let them deal with Fukushima at home, then you can trust them. Now they can’t do anything right, I’m sure
    1. askold
      askold 3 February 2014 16: 12
      I agree, I agree, and now in Hollywood they can start filming "Gravity-2". Only now, instead of our target satellite, a Japanese satellite vacuum cleaner will act as the main culprit and initiator of all troubles, from which a 300-meter magnetic network hung with a bunch of small debris has come off. And all this pleasure is flying to the newest, just launched into orbit, the American Orion spacecraft.
      1. Sashkessss
        Sashkessss 3 February 2014 19: 06
        Who went to Mars to plant democracy
  6. Volkhov
    Volkhov 3 February 2014 15: 27
    Proven sky cleansing device.
  7. Evrepid
    Evrepid 3 February 2014 18: 02
    Shuttles could take old spent satellites from orbit, which is what worked theoretically.

    But it’s small fragments that bring more problems, the network for assembling them is an interesting idea, but here is what a cell should be like to collect millimeter fragments ..
    I think that this is overdue, but the solution is not a fountain.

    Americans have a seat for flights in space. you can use it to collect garbage ... Utopian of course thought. but go no worse than the Japanese.
  8. postman
    postman 3 February 2014 18: 18
    The first ever space debris cleaner possibly will be launched in 2016 using the reusable space system, which is being developed by Swiss Space Systems.

    The satellite "cleaner" will use a special manipulator to collect space debris into a compartment inside itself. When the compartment is full, the satellite will return to the earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up when falling along with space debris.

    In order to avoid legal claims from other states, the first "target" of the cleaner will be SwissCube - the first satellite entirely built in Switzerland - at the Ecole Polytechnique Lausanne, and launched in 2009.

    NASA is about to shoot down space debris using a ground-based laser.

    The estimated power of the polar laser is only 5 kilowatts, such power is quite enough to push up to 10 objects per day from orbit.
    A prolonged exposure, within an hour or two, may well move the debris to a safe trajectory or trajectory leading to self-destruction in the atmosphere.
    1. Sashkessss
      Sashkessss 3 February 2014 19: 08
      The latter recalled the Technodrome of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: D
    2. unclevad
      unclevad 4 February 2014 17: 59
      This laser will not so much collide as it will do even more small debris. And nobody knows where it will fly - space, weightlessness ...
      1. The comment was deleted.
      2. postman
        postman 5 February 2014 01: 39
        Quote: unclevad
        This laser will not so much collide

        5kw laser? At a distance of 200km?
        LIGHT PRESSURE (Pressure of electromagnetic radiation, pressure of light - the pressure that light (and generally electromagnetic) radiation exerts, incident on the surface of a body.)
        as an example
        A laser beam with a wavelength of 663 nm is incident normally on the head of a rocket flying in the stratosphere, which has a mirror surface (reflection coefficient is close to 1). The force with which it acts on the head if the beam cross-sectional surface is 1 cm2 and the laser radiation intensity is 1030 W / m2.

        It (the laser beam) will slow down the space object (debris), reduce its speed to less than the first space object, and the object will enter the dense layers of the atmosphere (collapse or burn)
  9. Power
    Power 3 February 2014 23: 41
    And where is our great NANO breeding Chubais? Why hasn't nano seine been developed yet? At the same time we could turn the golf stream for them. Show Britam and others who have warmed up the "Russian winter" in kind.